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What does mono compatibility really mean?
Old 6 days ago
  #1
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Scoox's Avatar
What does mono compatibility really mean?

Newbie question here, I'm a bit confused by the term "mono-compatible". My understanding of a mono-compatible mix is that all frequencies that are present in the stereo mix should also be present in the mono mix to the greatest extent possible.

Now, if you've got two independent sound sources panned left and right and then you sum them to mono, surely the left and right channels are going to not just cancel out but also boost the sum momentary at countless points throughout the mix, so does mono compatibility really mean that said cancellations and boosts are so short-lived and random that they are not noticeably, thereby resulting in a mono mix whose spectral footprint is very close to that of the stereo mix?
Old 6 days ago
  #2
Lives for gear
“Mono-compatible” is not a scientific term with a fixed definition. In my experience it has always meant that the producer or mix engineer has checked the mix in mono and confirms it is an acceptable mix and has an acceptable balance of the important elements of the song.
It is a judgement call, not a measurement of anything.
Unless the original mix is Completely mono, combining the two channels and listening in mono always changes the mix. Instruments, voices and effects that are centered in the stereo mix will be louder, and panned elements will be less loud. Anything that is the exact same signal mixed with opposite polarities panned hard left and right will disappear entirely in mono.
So when extremely important elements disappear in mono, or become so low in level as to lack desired impact, that could be a mix that would be identified as NOT mono compatible.
I’m not aware that producers or mix engineers care much, or even should care much, about mono compatibility in 2019. There are only rare circumstances where anything is listened to in mono now. I have seen a few people puzzled at the sound of some popular songs played on mono PA systems, but other than that, nothing.
Old 5 days ago
  #3
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The importance or mono compatibility has a major importance when it comes to having your music sound right when played back on mono sources. TV, AM Radio, FM Radio, etc. FM for example changes to mono when the radio station signal gets weak. You surely wouldn't want half your music disappearing when the radio skips over to mono automatically or when someone hears the song on television or even an Alexa speaker which have become popular.

As far as having music disappear when setting it for mono you're looking at the problem bass ackwards. You should be mixing in mono and panning to stereo after you know the tracks have good frequency separation. If your tracks "Mask" each other or phase cancel then you really don't know what you're doing when it comes to tracking and mixing properly. There are some basic things you have to do when mixing.

Fixing phase and masking issues are two that are at the top of the list that should always be fixed before you get to far into mixing or you'll only have to backtrack and fix them later many times totally screwing up all the hours of work you may have put in.

Of course the easiest way to fix these kinds of problems is by preventing them from happening in the first place. Example. When I record music solo I typically track my instruments through the DAW into my monitors (I use 6 different sets of monitors including a full stereo PA system I can power up. Using the amp modeling gear I have I can easily match a miced amp's tone but have a hundred different amp combinations to choose from instead of just one. What I hear through the monitors is exactly what I get when recording, No surprises caused by Headphones or mics coloring the sound.

If I record my rhythm and drums together on the first take then come back and add bass, Guitar, Keys I'm able to dial up the "exact" tones I need for a fantastic sounding mix. The tracks typically sound fantastic before I even begin to mix, plus they are mono compatible because I recorded them all in mono and dialed up tones that fit in with the other instruments.

I'd do this just like I would playing live with a full band. Of course if you don't have the live experience then its going to be allot harder. I remember back to some early bands where the other guitarist and I would try and dial up the same lead guitar part tones. Of course its impossible for two parts to occupy the same frequencies and be heard properly. One instrument is always going to be "on top so it winds up being a war of volume and the drummer and bassist would often have to suffer because of this loudness war that couldn't be won.

Eventually you wise up, mainly listening to other professional bands and recordings and figure out why those banded sounded so good. Answer, they stay off each others Turf and play in their own range of frequencies. This may involve using different guitars, amps, pedals, settings etc. This often means you have at least two basic sounds, lead and rhythm and as one guy switches to the lead tones the other changes to Rhythm tones. If you both play leads at different times just be courteous enough to dial your tone back while the other guy hangs 10 on the front of the stage.

If you can get the tones right tracking that's a good 90% of the battle. Plugins become Ornamental instead of RX tools for parts needing major repairs. Fact is most effects plugins do about as much harm as they do good. You never gain anything using them, you simply hope they remove more bad then they do good. If you capture high quality tracks a small trade off of fidelity for some effects may never be noticed. On the other hand, you have tracks like you mentioned that mask each other badly when set for mono aren't going to help either. You'll likely do so much damage to them trying to prevent masking you wind up with a crippled song.

Another really important thing. Just because the music sounds good with those instruments hard panned doesn't mean all stereo's and listening environments will be the same as how you're mixing it. If you have tiyr head planted between speakers separated by 3' on either side, the parts may sound fine without having checked mono capability.

Take that same mix play it back on a boom box where the speakers share bass frequencies, or simply set the stereo in a big room and listen to the music from the far end of the room where you can block the view of the speakers with your thumb held out, that stereo mix is essentially mono in a big room because the speakers are so close together. I guarantee, you will have the same masking issues as you do when the mix is set for mono.

In short, the walls in a room bounces the sound from both speakers and eventually combines them to mono. You want those instruments to stand out clearly defined without masking, then set up a stereo to mono plugin in the main buss and check the mix regularly as you're mixing. The "Only" thing that should change is the sound moves center when flipped to mono. Every instrument should remain just as clear and identifiable, if they aren't then you better get back to basics and figure out what you're doing wrong.

Some of the best examples of this can be found comparing some of the first stereo Beatles albums. If you listen to something like Nowhere Man, they did some really strange things mixing in stereo, mainly because they hadn't invented panning knobs yet. They only had switches which hard panned things. Second they didn't have any rules to regulate how a stereo album should sound so they did some really wacky stuff like hard panning the drums to one side, bass to the others, or grouped all the vocals on one side and instruments on the others.

Third, the recordings were already mixed as mono albums and they essentially turned them into stereo albums. you winder why the players were so tight no matter where in the panned mix they were, its because that were all recorded and mixed in mono and everything was times for that mono mix. They often had more then one instrument bounced onto those old 3 and 4 track recordings so not only were the musical arrangements carefully worked out but the master recordings they made the stereo mixes from already had fixed obstacles when it came to panning choices. You still learn allot by listening them panned left and right and then set for mono.

back maybe 10 years ago I was playing in a Retro band playing British invasion music. We did allot of those old, Beatles, Stones, songs and played then quite well in fact. When I made multitrack recordings of them then used the original songs as a template for mixing things, that's where I gained a new appreciation for those old recordings. hard panning and keeping a balanced frequency response in two speakers was very challenging. I eventually did just what's I'm saying here, Mix in stereo till it sounds killer then work on panning and you'll never have to worry about masking or phase cancellation because you Have to overcome those things to make a mono mix work well.
Old 5 days ago
  #4
Gear Maniac
 
weave's Avatar
 

FWIW - one way that I listen to music is cell phone to Bluetooth speaker. As in one speaker, has battery that you charge with usb, some are waterproof, etc... Not sure if what comes out can be considered “true mono”. Some are capable of stereo, by buying a second speaker and somehow linking them. Not the cheaper ones, that sell well, though. Might be worth thinking about at mix time. They do seem fairly popular on amazon.
Old 5 days ago
  #5
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scoox View Post
Newbie question here, I'm a bit confused by the term "mono-compatible".
It's a catch-all term meaning "nothing terrible happens when you listen in mono." But there are degrees of terrible.
Old 4 days ago
  #6
Gear Guru
 
Muser's Avatar
hard panning any mono signal shouldn't mean a signal becomes mono incompatible. if a signal is mono it is all in phase information so it is technically Mid information and mono compatible. so panning a mono signal should still be compatible with a mono playback system. it's when you have information which is out of phase on two different panned channels where the cancelation will tend to begin, when it's collapsed to mono. like some stereo chorused reverb etc. so if you copy say a guitar, pan one left and one right, flip the phase on one, it will sound ok until you sum it to mono. because then it will totally disappear into a null condition.
Old 4 days ago
  #7
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Quetz's Avatar
Wow, my phone actually got heavier, so many words..

The answer to your question is 'yes'.
Old 4 days ago
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quetz View Post
Wow, my phone actually got heavier, so many words..

The answer to your question is 'yes'.
The answer to what question by which poster?

I always give thanks for the book-length posters. They allow me to believe that my rambling posts are brief and concise.
Old 4 days ago
  #9
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LOL..It just means if the song sounds good in mono.

A lot of times if you have a popular song it will be played in mono.
Old 4 days ago
  #10
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Quetz's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
The answer to what question by which poster?

I always give thanks for the book-length posters. They allow me to believe that my rambling posts are brief and concise.
Ha ha! Yeah ok so I was brief but not clear enough. Touché I guess
Was aimed solely at the op.
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